Swallow, Shurtleff case may spark — or squelch — election interest
Salt Lake County Jail
SALT LAKE CITY — The prosecution of former Republican attorneys general John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff is getting plenty of attention that could have an effect on the November elections for better or worse.
"There is an undercurrent of disgust," said advertising executive Tom Love, whose clients include 4th District congressional candidate Doug Owens and Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, both Democrats.
"A cynic would say that would turn people off to the process. I think it could incite more people to go to the polls," Love said. "I think it could have a positive impact on voter turnout because I think it creates some interest that might not be there."
That's in part because with a trial not expected to get underway until well after the election, Hansen said the criminal case won't likely be making too many headlines once voters turn their attention to the election this fall.
"As far as having an impact on voters, you know, the housewife in Herriman isn't going to sit there and say, 'I'm not going to vote in this election because of the upcoming trial,'" said Hansen, a former state GOP chairman.
Tom Love said the message for Democratic candidates is that it's time to look past party labels to restore public trust in all elected offices.
"It's not a question of capitalizing. It's a question of focusing on what's right," he said.
And he believes voters will be receptive.
"This is one of the biggest corruption scandals in the country," Tom Love said. "If people aren't motivated by what they've seen, there's nothing I can do."
Alan Crooks, political general consultant for Attorney General Sean Reyes, said the GOP candidate's internal polling suggests voter turnout should be typical for a mid-term election.
Reyes, appointed by Gov. Gary Herbert after Swallow resigned in December amid multiple investigations, lost to Swallow in the 2012 GOP primary. He is running in a special election for the remaining two years of Swallow's term.
An attorney general's race usually doesn't attract much attention, but Crooks said Reyes' polling also found that voters are arming themselves with more information about the candidates.
"It just shows they're watching all politicians more closely," Crooks said. "It does make us feel good that what Sean is doing is working. If they are watching carefully, they're seeing that."
The Democratic candidate for attorney general, Charles Stormont, said voters are unusually focused on the race, at the top of the ticket because of the special election.
"This attorney general's race is unique," said Stormont, an assistant attorney general who took a leave of absence to run. "This year, the first question is, 'Tell me what you're going to do to make sure this doesn't happen again?'"
Chris Karpowitz, co-director of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said the attorney general's race will be in the spotlight this election, thanks to Swallow and Shurtleff.
"Typically, that's a race that can get lost in the shuffle," Karpowitz said.
Still, he said, it's hard to know how the Swallow and Shurtleff case will affect voter turnout.
"Levels of trust in government overall are quite low, and to the extent this contributes to a sense that government is, that political figures are corrupt or don't have the broad interest of the public in mind, it doesn't help," Karpowitz said.
State Republican Party Chairman James Evans said voter turnout in GOP-dominated Utah will be driven this year by frustration with a Democrat, President Barack Obama.
"That will be a signficant motivator for Republicans to come out this year, and the enormous regret that Mitt Romney is not president," Evans said. "That's going to overshadow everything."
The executive director of the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah, Maryann Martindale, wasn't optimistic that voters would respond to the Swallow and Shurtleff scandal.
"I don't think it will have a significant impact, but if it does have an impact, it will be negative," Martindale said. "In reality, it should be just the opposite. People should be angered by this, and they should come out in droves to make a statement."
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